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Trump, Iran, and ‘Moral Clarity’

The Trump administration’s defense [1] of offering public support to protesters in Iran is not very persuasive:

Mr. Hook pushed back on the notion that energetically backing Iranians’ right to publicly express their views would give ammunition to the regime.

“It doesn’t matter what we do, they will blame us,” he said. “For us, this is not a complicated question. We want to take a position with moral clarity and let the protesters know they’re not alone.”

The Iranian government will try to blame outside actors for the protests (Khamenei did just that today [2]), but it doesn’t follow that this makes it right or smart for our government to offer public backing. It does matter what “we” do through our government, and it matters how “we” do it. The U.S. should be very careful that its statements and actions can’t be used as weapons against people protesting their own government, and the surest way to avoid blunders that benefit the regime is to say and do as little as possible. This is contrary to the ingrained Washington impulse to “do something” in response to whatever shows up in the news, but it is the right thing to do.

Whenever government officials begin talking about “moral clarity,” you can be reasonably sure that the policy in question has little or nothing to do with morality. The same administration that claims to want “moral clarity” in its position on protests in Iran couldn’t care less about the crime against humanity being committed by its clients in Yemen. This is the same administration that told our despotic clients in Riyadh that it wasn’t interested in “lecturing” them about their internal affairs. “Moral clarity” is the phrase that is used whenever someone in Washington wants to denounce adversaries for actions that he ignores or excuses when they are committed by governments on “our” side. It is a signal that our government is about to engage in some highly selective and cynical public criticism.

The problem with U.S. backing for domestic protesters in another country isn’t just that it risks undermining them, but that it inserts the U.S. into internal political disputes that are not really any of our business. There is a danger that our interference will end up harming those it is intended to “help,” but there is an even greater danger that it strengthens the belief among our policymakers that our government somehow has the right to “shape” the internal political life of another country. The U.S. doesn’t have that right, and the presumption that it does is one of the reasons why our government is viewed with so much mistrust and suspicion.

11 Comments (Open | Close)

11 Comments To "Trump, Iran, and ‘Moral Clarity’"

#1 Comment By Tony On January 2, 2018 @ 12:54 pm

“There is a danger that our interference will end up harming those it is intended to “help”…..”. I can’t believe that the US government cares for the Iranian people. The Iranian regime is the perfect pariah that US and Israel use to manipulate other nations, so why change it??

#2 Comment By sherparick On January 2, 2018 @ 1:01 pm

Yep, nothing says moral clarity then President* Torture and worse, the supporter of the Saudi war crimes in Yemen, stating that he is supporting the demonstrators in Iran. With “friends” like this, who needs enemies.

#3 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On January 2, 2018 @ 1:59 pm

Then there’s Netanyahu preaching about democracy.

We are seeing a festival of sanctimony. Maybe the protests are the real thing, and maybe they are another “color revolution.” Whatever they are, for once, we could shut up about them. Alas, the ghost of Woodrow Wilson still haunts us after a bloody, misbegotten century.

#4 Comment By JK On January 2, 2018 @ 2:39 pm

This article misses the biggest risk – which is the possiblity that the protesters will be deluded into believing “they’re not alone” and be emboldened by it. They are alone and will be slaughtered by Iranian security forces if the get bold. That’s what happened with the Kurds and Catalonian independence declarations. The leaderships there were deluded believing that someone would come and save them – when they were totally out-powered. Nobody is going to come save these Iranian protersters – least of all the U.S.. Don’t egg on someone else into a war they can’t win when you’re not going to come save them.

#5 Comment By rayray On January 2, 2018 @ 3:22 pm

Well put. And there’s nothing that confirms the Iranian administration’s accusations of the existence outside agitators than saying that the protesters are “not alone”.

#6 Comment By jeff On January 2, 2018 @ 3:50 pm

It’s useful during these episodes to imagine the U.S. in other countries’ shoes. If there were protests in the streets of the U.S., and other countries commented or encouraged, imagine the outrage from either the left or the right, depending on which countries are commenting – Russia, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran, France, Britain, etc.

The point is that such exhortations from abroad are rarely welcome.

#7 Comment By grin without a cat On January 2, 2018 @ 4:20 pm

If it doesn’t matter what we do, why do anything?

#8 Comment By Youknowho On January 2, 2018 @ 5:45 pm


It also happened to the Hungarians in the 50’s. The U.S. send brave words of support to embolden , and when the Russians invaded, they did NOTHING.

John Lukacs never forgave Eisenhower for that.

#9 Comment By Youknowho On January 3, 2018 @ 9:03 am

That’s what “moral clarity” delivers:


#10 Comment By F. Lauer On January 3, 2018 @ 10:51 am

@Youknowho & @JK

The same in Lithuania. “The Invisible Front”, “The Unknown War” and “Forest Brothers” documentaries tell the history.

#11 Comment By the swarm On January 11, 2018 @ 5:54 am

“Then there’s Netanyahu preaching about democracy.”

What cracks me up is Netanyahu preaching about democracy on his way to being interrogated about the corruption that his own son is on videotape bragging about in a strip club. Verily, a red light unto the nations …